On Perfectionism

I sent out my graduation announcements last week, & now I'm feeling all sorts of nostalgic.

What a sweet five years it's been! I am so thankful for the English and Religious Studies Departments at Cal Poly for teaching me what it means to be tenacious and purpose driven but gracious, gentle, and kind. What a gift it has been to know and be known by this community of brilliant, open-hearted people.  

Of course, it wasn't always peachy. Peppered among the joyful moments and rich friendships were stress tears, quarter-life crises, and heartbreaks. But most consuming was the perfectionism that seeped into every inch of my life during my last year of college. 

Before I fully grappled with perfectionism myself, I had a hard time taking seriously any person who claimed to be a “perfectionist.” Wasn’t that just a dramatic way to say that someone puts effort into their life? And didn’t it seem a little… pretentious? I felt that nestled in the word “perfectionist” was a self-righteous claim that the person in question produced flawless work or lived a perfect life. But as perfectionism gained a firm grip on my life during my last year of college, I realized just how serious and harmful that mindset can be. 

Let’s turn back the clock two months. 

It’s the middle of March at 3:00am on a Tuesday morning, and finals are quickly approaching. I’m sitting crosslegged on the floor, surrounded by thick literature anthologies and miscellaneous stacks of paper. The town is trudging through a heat wave, so my windows are flung open in the attempt to coax a sea breeze inside. But instead, my studio is filled with stale, hot air. I've stripped down to my skivvies with a fan pointed at my face and my chin propped up in my hands. I’m underfed, underslept, and probably overcaffeinated. I can’t remember the last time I slept for more than five hours or had three balanced meals in a day. All I can think about is the Israeli-Palestinian War and literary surrealism and Hindu metaphysics and Emily Dickinson and the impact of artificial intelligence on monistic and dualistic religion. It’s all melding together, and my strands of thought are tangled so tightly that I can’t even remember which topic is for which class. I’m struggling with nightmares, panic attacks, and food aversion, but I don't know how to stop. 

Up until this point—we’re still frozen in that moment at 3:00am on a Tuesday morning in March—I had never gotten a B at my university. Never. I had received a few A- grades in the past, all of which left me feeling deeply disappointed in myself. It was like those minus signs were little malicious smudges on my transcript, soiling an otherwise-perfect record. But this quarter, having taken on too many units and responsibilities, my grades were suddenly teetering not on the familiar edge between an A and A- but between an A- and a B+. Numerically, this is a very small difference. But in my mind, this was of towering significance; if A- meant mediocrity, certainly B+ meant failure. 

Strangely, this dichotomy I had cleaved onto (that A = perfect, A- = mediocre, B+ = failure) was not something I projected upon anyone else. I rejoiced with my friends when they received a B on a term paper or a C in a challenging class. I was able to celebrate their achievements and see their lives more clearly than my own. 

I wish I could tell you that after that 3am morning in the middle of March, I was able to push through the quarter with straight As. Instead, my very last quarter of college was pockmarked by an A- and three B+s. Yes, three of them. The girl who had never gotten a B received three all at once. I wish I could tell you that despite those three B+s, I still graduated with highest honors. Instead, I missed graduating summa cum laude (the highest of the three honors levels) by 0.006 grade points. Yes, 0.006. And no, they don't round up. 

I'm still coming to terms with the fact that I can't do it all, and I certainly can't do it all flawlessly. By putting so much pressure on myself, I had made "perfect" the enemy of "good." I felt like if I couldn't do something perfectly, it wasn't worth it to just do it well, so maybe it wasn't worth it to do it at all. 

After finishing college, I started working in a startup incubator—a fast-paced environment where perfect isn't an option. When we work on a product or design, we shoot for 80% satisfaction. For one thing, it's impossible to make 100% of customers, investors, and mentors happy. For another, we're a small team, so we don't have the luxury of lingering over tasks for long periods of time. Startup culture has quickly taught me that aiming for perfection is unreasonable, and that it's much more productive to set small, measurableattainable goals.

I recently stumbled across a passage in John Steinbeck's East of Eden that has guided my mindset over the past two months. Steinbeck writes about accepting imperfections and mistakes as part of the human condition, and allowing yourself to be good rather than perfect. His words are already plastered across my graduation cap in preparation for the official ceremony in June, and I know those same words will help guide my efforts in graduate school next year.

"And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good." - John Steinbeck, East of Eden

 

joyfully + imperfectly, 

 
 

Five Lessons from 2015

2015 was a year of humility and change. It was a year of growth and of character over comfort, of postcards and patience and a whole lot of prayer. But amidst it all, 2015 was a year of unexpected joy and the most precious of blessings. Here are five lessons I've learned along the way this year...

1. Treasure your health (and your mama). 

Brain tumor. Two words that I never thought would become rooted in my vocabulary and daily life. When my mom was diagnosed with a plum-sized brain tumor in September, life underwent a radical change overnight. Our “new normal” consisted of MRIs, appointments with specialists, hospital waiting rooms, and taking endless phone messages. Dinnertime conversation revolved around the anatomy and function of the temporal and parietal lobes. And after my mom’s brain surgery—which, by the way, was beautifully successful, and she handled everything with such grace and bravery—I found myself thrust into the position of nurse, pharmacist, caregiver, chauffeur, and housekeeper, while balancing college finals and dealing with a sprained neck. I was running on empty. Exhausted and stressed to the core, I still knew undoubtedly that I would do anything for that sweet “patient” of mine. That’s what love is. Though this season of life has been a bit trying, it’s shown me just how much I treasure my family. Now that my mama is beginning to recover, we are so joyful. We laugh at her punk-rock haircut (half shaved, exposing a rather gnarly horseshoe-shaped incision). We joke about her fifteen prescription bottles. And, most of all, we talk with new urgency about what changes we want make in our lives and how we will more actively pursue our passions. Brain surgery has been a wakeup call for our entire family. Cherish your family, cherish your health. 

2. Buy the plane ticket. Take the long drive. 

Part of having a non-linear college path means that my closest friends are dotted all across the country. As someone who tends to have fewer but closer friends, I’ve realized the importance of having highly intentional friendships. For me, this has meant saving my money for train tickets, or spending long, percolated hours in the thick of Los Angeles traffic—doing whatever I have to do just to get there and be with people that I love. My “love language” also happens to be quality time, so I’ve found it incredibly fulfilling to be able to see faraway friends and spend the weekend or even just the afternoon together. This intentionality in friendships has also meant more emails, text messages, and written letters exchanged (with emphasis on the latter... I love writing and receiving letters in the mail). 

3. Savor the little things.

Everyone goes through a period of inevitable drought, when the finances are tight, morale is low, and things feel hopeless or just monotonous. In such times, savor the small moments—the golden retriever napping next to you, a catch-up phone call with a friend, a steaming mug of something delicious paired with a well-loved book. This year, I’ve had to rely on God more than ever, and I know that he’s blessed me with an abundance of beautiful moments in return. The little things have kept me feeling joyful, blessed, and grateful for each day. 

4. Forge ahead, even if you can't see (literally). 

With my sprained neck in November came an influx of vision disturbances—a catalyst for several MRIs, neurology appointments, ophthalmology appointments, and blood work (my family has gotten quite comfortable at the doctor's office this year!). At first it felt like life was on pause as I was waiting to heal. But my normal vision didn't return, or at least not yet, so I’ve had to learn how to adjust and forge ahead. And the crazy thing is that forging ahead has made me feel more normal; some of my symptoms have become mere annoyances that I can forget about. Although I have to take extra good care of myself, I’ve actually found more relief from pushing myself to do more, even when I don’t feel like it. Every day is much too precious to be wasted (I think that’s been one of the overarching themes of the year).

5. Let yourself dream. 

As much as I advocate living in the present moment, I’ve recently found a lot of joy in letting myself just dream—of being completely impractical and getting lost in daydreams about the future. And I’ve found that it’s maybe not so frivolous after all; dreaming helps me better understand where my heart is without that pesky practicality getting the way. I dream about being an author (...without thinking about the unstable paycheck). I dream about my future vegetable garden and neighborhood and family, of the books I’ll write and the people I’ll meet. I also like to dream about the future that’s right around the corner: 2016. How will Friday, January 1st look different from today? What can I do to actively make 2016 excellent? What does this fresh, new year have in store? 2015 was a humbling year with some jagged edges, but it also was a year of wonder. I am wonderstruck at how everything—the good and the bad—worked together seamlessly in 2015. Looking back, I see God’s hand in every single moment, and I can’t wait to see what He has in store next. After all, "we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good" (Romans 8:28).

Happy New Year, friends!

 
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Insignificant Moments

I want a life that sizzles and pops and makes me laugh out loud. And I don’t want to get to the end, or to tomorrow, even, and realize that my life is a collection of meetings and pop cans and errands and receipts and dirty dishes. I want to eat cold tangerines and sing out loud in the car with the windows open and wear pink shoes and stay up all night laughing and paint my walls the exact color of the sky right now. I want to sleep hard on clean white sheets and throw parties and eat ripe tomatoes and read books so good they make me jump up and down, and I want every day to make God belly laugh, glad that he gave life to someone who loves the gift.
— Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines

The other night, one of my dearest and far-away friends sent me this quote from Cold Tangerines, a book by Shauna Niequist.

And before the evening was over, I found myself buying the whole book on my Kindle—a whopping seven-dollar investment (for a college student, that’s like a Panera You-Pick-Two)—happy to support sweet Shauna because I adored her book Bittersweet, but surprising myself nonetheless. I mean... I didn’t even try to snag a dog-eared and faded paperback copy for less than a dollar from the hoards of used book offers on Amazon. No, that wouldn’t do. Overcome by a strange and compelling sense of urgency, I needed the book, then and there. And in my experience, anything but apathy is worth listening to, so the urgent little voice in my head and I clicked purchase and watched as it loaded onto my Kindle.

That night I began the book as I tucked myself in between the sheets. The first few chapters that I read in those fleeting evening hours (before sleep convinced my eyelids of their weight) were about making small, daily life tasks significant and pleasing to the Lord. I was captivated, but not convinced.

How could the monotony of my daily life—the making and unmaking of my excessive twelve-pillowed bed, the strands of dental floss that didn’t quite make it into the trash bin, and the granola bar I shoved in my mouth as I put the key in the ignition when I was running late be significant? Meaningful? Ecclesiastical? How could those moments be anything, really?

By the next day I had forgotten all of those thoughts, as deep thinking was temporarily lost to a laborious to-do list (and an impending marine biology exam). But in a moment of rest, I cracked open Jesus Calling and lingered over my comically large coffee mug: "Even the most routine part of your day can be a spiritual act of worship, holy and pleasing to Me."

So there it was again—moments of worth. Moments like diamonds and days like treasure. It was about bypassing the “Sunday morning show” and living in Christ’s truth as I made oatmeal and got the mail and ran out of the good shampoo. Had I been living like that? Had I really been doing life with God? Did I even know what that looked like?

So I kept reading Cold Tangerines. Shauna was on to something with this whole “celebrating the extraordinary nature of everyday life” thing. Through little bundles of chapters and bookmarked pages, I began to feel like she was this sort of older-sister-meets-mother mentor figure to me. And I felt God speaking to me through her.

Today is your big moment. Moments, really. The life you’ve been waiting for is happening all around you. The scene unfolding right outside your window is worth more than the most beautiful painting, and the crackers and peanut butter that you’re having for lunch on the coffee table are as profound, in their own way, as the Last Supper. This is it. This is life in all its glory, swirling and unfolding around us, disguised as pedantic, pedestrian non-events. But pull off the mask and you will find your life, waiting to be made, chosen, woven, crafted.
— Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines

Awareness of God—His love, His presence, His plan put to action in everyday happenings—makes all the difference. It’s in this awareness of the subtleties of His voice and the vastness of His love that we truly do life with Him. It’s in these small moments, like chopping apples and putting on socks, that we have the grand opportunity to dwell in His love and light and reflect it back out into the world.

Recently I’ve gotten into the habit of skipping over my usual Spotify playlists and listening to my “Jesus music” while driving. Little by little, driving has shifted from a tedious, basic task, to a time where I can reflect, recharge, and gear up for/wind down from the day’s happenings. By letting God into these otherwise insignificant ten or twenty minutes, my mood improves and outlook shifts.

By pouring out love and intention every day, we’re consequently filled up with Christ. It’s the crux of the Creator–creation relationship. As instruments of His love and purpose, we’re called to worship in all moments—both big and small—and make disciples as we cut the grass and chat with the UPS guy. There is worth, power, significance, and love in the non-events. And so today: be intentional. Pour out. Be filled up. Harvest joy. Practice gratitude. Every moment is your testimony. 

Joyfully,

 
 


Planting in Faith

You are a woman. An image bearer of God. The crown of creation. You were chosen before time and space, and you are wholly and dearly loved. You are sought after, pursued, romanced, [and] the passionate desire of Jesus. You are dangerous in your beauty and your life-giving power. And you are needed. As a woman who has been ransomed and redeemed, you can be tender and strong. You speak to the world of God’s mercy, mystery, beauty, and his desire for intimate relationship...The King is captivated by your beauty...Whatever your particular calling, you are meant to grace the world with your dance, to follow the lead of Jesus wherever he leads you.
— Captivating

Following the lead of Jesus has proven difficult lately, as I find myself tangled deep beneath all of my selfish wants and wishes. I strain my ears to listen for His quiet call, instead hearing only my own anxious mind firing off thoughts at 100 miles per hour. It's so humbling to think you're headed one way--and to be completely confident about said direction--only to be wrong. 

Don’t dig up in doubt what you planted in faith.
— Elizabeth Elliot

In this time of gritty trust and blind belief, I'm realizing the strength of the poison that is doubt. It begins small--a second thought or a hesitant moment--and grows rapidly and wildly, flailing its limbs and rearing its head. Soon every decision is coated in the poison, attracting Doubt's dear friends, Anxiety, Fear, and Apathy. Together they make an unruly bunch, diluting trust and cutting out faith. They're wicked strong, wicked stubborn, and freaking annoying.

It feels like hiking at night.

I have my boots laced up and my flashlight in hand, but the beam only illuminates one small patch of the mountain at a time. If I get distracted by the foliage or animal noises, I could diverge from the path, ending up hopelessly lost. If I become too obsessed with the end goal, shining my flashlight way ahead of me, I will stumble and fall, or perhaps step on a friendly neighborhood rattlesnake. If my light stays at my feet with my eyes glued to the ground, I could take the wrong path, run headfirst into a branch, or just miss the beauty of looking up at the moon in the sky. 

Balance is hard.

The biggest comfort in times of radical change or instability is knowing that God would never "throw you to the wolves" (unless you're David and the wolves are Lions... and even then He'll still be with you and protect you!). His right hand will guide you (see Psalms 139:9-10). Sometimes silence is His answer. Sometimes the answer is "not yet." Sarah was 90 when she gave birth to the son that God had promised to her and Abraham. She even laughed when the angel of the Lord told her she'd have a son (Genesis 21:6), but Sarah was patient and God was faithful. And so when Sarah was 90 (and Abraham was 100), she gave birth to Isaac--whose name means "laughter" in Hebrew. Besides, worrying is literally betting against God. Stay hopeful. Stay joyful.

P.S.: Welcome to my new site! After using Wordpress for 2 years, it was time for a change. Whether you are new to my blog or have been reading my thoughts for awhile, click below to learn more about who I am and what I do.

Joyfully,

 
 



Finding Peace in a Busy Season

IT'S FINALS SEASON.

Laced with energy drinks, late-night swipes into the library and printers running dry of ink, finals season is the microcosm of “real world” deadlines crammed into a two-week period.

It’s like the volume dial of the stress radio was crank, crank, cranked to full blast, then broken off and stuck in position. So here we are as college students, with broken pencils, messy hair and under-eye circles, fueling caffeine addictions and nursing (or numbing) our tired minds.

Although I’m not a late night studier (I’d rather get up at 5am—perhaps a rare trait in my age group), I fit every other finals week stereotype—sleepy, swollen eyes, clothes that I fell asleep in, and a textbook never leaving the crook of my arm.

I am a school person. A perfectionist. An “oh my gosh, I got an A-” kind of gal (although I would never admit it in a classroom setting—people who verbalize that really test my patience). Being so “schooly” has its pros (good grades) and cons (a bundle of nasty stress breakdowns/freak outs/meltdowns leading up to finals week). I make flashcards and rewrite notes, annotate books and fill the pages with sticky note flags on important bits of information.

And side note: that's okay. That's who I am. I think a lot of college students think it's cool to laugh about failing classes, brag about not studying, or joke about not even having the textbooks. And I say: It's seriously cool to be smart. It's not something to be embarrassed about.

smart

But... Even though I usually have a good turn out once finals week is over, I’m often left a little wounded physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I’m so hard on myself that my emotions are usually frayed, and my self-reflecting thoughts aren’t exactly the kindest. My brain turns to mush (or is hollow with a dull humming noise vibrating off of the empty caverns). I’m sleep-deprived, exercise-deprived, and nutrition-deprived (real nutrition—my finals week diet of protein bars and water doesn’t count). And worst of all, when I get to this broken (but academically excellent) point, I’ve neglected my relationship with Christ.

It’s so easy for me to sink into the depths of my schoolwork, disappearing completely into projects, presentations, papers, and study guides. I get so stressed out and mad at myself for not remembering that phosphorous makes red blood cells with folate and that the Rastafarian religion stemmed from the Queen of Sheba visiting King Solomon (I always think it's David because he is associated with Bathsheba...close enough). I forget to brush my teeth (eww kidding...kinda) or my hair. I barely remember to take deep breaths, let alone pray.

But I’ve been realizing something this time around, when my stress is greater than ever before and when the two weeks to finals also means two weeks left in the state of Texas: God is great and I am not. Riding the rush of a good grade is sweet for a few moments, until the to-do list piles back up, there’s another test on the desk in front of you, and you’re trying to handle everything on your own. I’m realizing during this finals season how much I need God. I need someone to talk to, someone to love me when I can’t remember the stomach enzyme that breaks down lipids, and someone to calm me down when my computer crashes.

The gap between our frail discipline capabilities and God’s available strength for us is bridged with nothing but a simple choice on our part.
— Lysa TerKeurst, Made to Crave

His omnipresence is a great comforter—literally a giant, soft, squishy blanket wrapped around my shoulders. With Him I’m finding the peace and joy in this finals season, and in these last two weeks at this school. I feel blessed to be able to study exactly what I love, to have a cozy apartment (with a fireplace DVD playing on loop), and to have a family that knows I’m doing my best no matter what the outcome. He keeps me from falling. He holds my hand. And sometimes, when it’s the end of the school day but there’s still more to do, he just carries me. I’m thankful for a God like this. He is my source of strength and perseverance, my cheerleader (that’s a visual), and my Heavenly Father. And of course, knowing that in two little weeks I’ll be hopping in my hybrid and cruising back to California is a giant motivator.

Joyfully in Christ,

 
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Feeling Restless: The Monotony of Routine

"When I look at the galaxies on a clear night--when I look at the incredible brilliance of creation, and think that this is what God is like, instead of feeling intimidated and diminished by it, I am enlarged--I rejoice that I am part of it." - Madeleine L'Engle

I needed a change. I felt restless but rooted; each subsequent day overflowed with equal parts urgency and apathy. How had I let myself become so entangled in monotony? I was reluctant to unclench my palms, letting go of my familiar, comforting, dull, maddening routine.

I tried to push the feeling back down, but it kept sprouting up again. Tireless and consistent, the feeling that I needed to change something felt as if God were knocking on the caverns of my mind, shouting joyfully, “Wake up! Wake up, my daughter! Taste and see the world! I can give you a new perspective if you simply ask me. Wake up, sweet daughter!”

 

& so I got up.

 

I flung open the windows, and blasted John Mayer (the man of my dreams—that “beautiful, tortured soul”). I pulled a few pots and pans on tiptoe from the cupboard, and gathered ingredients. I brought water to a rolling boil, and added pasta. In another pan, I began making a humble, homemade sauce with thick diced tomatoes and little bunches of minced garlic. I moved all of the furniture in the adjacent living room to the edges of the walls, gifting me with luscious floor space. I piled blankets and pillows on the carpet, filled a glass with water and ice and lemon, and put on my favorite “playclothes.”

The breeze drifted through the wide-open windows, as the curtains snapped joyfully in the wind and the sauce bubbled deliciously on the stove. Something about the simple act of moving the furniture and letting in the Earth’s breath made me feel like my little cottage-y apartment was completely new. For a lingering moment, the ordinary—my little herb garden, the guitar jauntily propped against the wall, and the rollout piano stretched across the floor—was thrilling and novel and fresh.

It’s easy to drift into Tedium’s grasp; she gluttonously laps up every drop of novelty, and robs us of our happiness. It's especially easy for students to slip into routine--a huge chunk of our lives is scheduled out and penciled in, neglecting spontaneity.

We have our favorite spot in the library, that one food that we have at least 3 times a week, and the shirt we seem to wear every day. Even the Friday Night-ers are adamant in the order that they “hit the bars.” Routine is a college thing. We aren’t mindful about the food we consume, the conversations we have, or how long we sleep. This heedless “auto-pilot” mode leaves us flighty and distracted, or stressed when the test we were “meaning to study for” is suddenly staring maliciously up at us from the desk.

There is little time for real whimsy or exploration. We wake up—three or four alarms later—and roll over to check Facebook, Twitter, texts, email, and Instagram in tandem, a faithful servant to connectivity. We spend a few moments sitting on the bathroom counter and staring in shock at our reflection (raccoon eyes, knotted hair, a zit, a weird cheek indentation from sleeping strangely...).

Climbing back into my beddish, blankety ocean between classes is no longer a cozy treat. Naps don’t connote restfulness or relaxation, but exhaustion and negligence. Packing a snack to enjoy during long day of schooling no longer alludes to elementary school lunches (sandwich with the crust cut off, veggies in a baggie). Lipstick and perfume and a swipe of mascara no longer wink of date nights or dinners. I am thrilled by these things when they happen rarely; routine unpacks pleasure when small joys become daily actions. I’m extremely analytical and introspective, so when I began to dismantle my feelings of apathy (basically just a case of the “blah’s”), I realized how many other areas of my life echoed the same passive, lethargic, indifference (more “blah’s). The biggest one broke my heart—I'd forgotten the magic of creation.

When was the last time you looked up at the stars and thought, “God made those, in all of their fiery, interplanetary wonder, and he still made me”? Or when was the last time you even looked at the stars?

I am broken and sinful, easily discouraged, and self-indulgent. There are very few days when I feel quite as radiant as the celestial bodies, and even fewer days when I feel as significant or purposeful. Stars just know what to do—they are kindled, then burn and shine for trillions of years, illuminating our backyard campouts, guiding sailors home safely, and proclaiming the place of Christ’s birth. And me? I go to school. I eat lunch. I swim, run, or walk. I sleep. How can I even compare to God’s mighty creation?

This is the magnificent part—we need not be intimidated. We can rejoice simply because we are a part of it (Madeleine L'Engle). Neither tedium nor apathy can erase the marvel of creation. Nothing can wipe away my astonishment that we are special elements of a macrocosmic masterpiece. Routine will still attempt to steal my joy and hamper my productivity. Monotony will still seek to blanket my purpose, but just knowing that I am a small (yet meaningful) part of the brilliance of creation is enough for today.

» Instead of Waiting for Someone to Bring You Flowers: Romance, God, & A Very Messy Heart

“And so you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul, instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.” | V. Shoffstall, After a While

I’ve always loved February 14th. I like pink and chocolate (& pink chocolate), flowers and stacks of love-laden cards.

I loved Valentine’s Day in elementary school. It was so exciting and so sweetly innocent. We would all cover little shoeboxes with wrapping paper and carry them proudly in the crook of our elbows, other arm lugging candy-stuffed valentines (one for everyone in the class—that was the rule) in a giant plastic baggie. The teacher would give us an entire afternoon to parade around the classroom, dropping candy into each other’s boxes, simultaneously nibbling heart-shaped cookies and giggling over “who likes who.”

The best was the first grade. My mom sewed me a beautiful dress with a swishy hemline to wear to school on Valentine’s Day. There were puffy sleeves, white pearl buttons and little white hearts peppered on the red cotton. There was a special assembly that day, where the police came to talk about “fighting bad guys,” and I was privileged enough to be picked to sit in the police car (as an envious crowd looked on). It really was the best day ever.

In later years, when my perfect little dress was passed onto a neighbor or folded neatly in a box, I still wore pink or red to school on February 14th, bringing with me a bulging bag of valentines and a huge smile.

I am a romantic when it comes to life, and unabashedly so. I have a soft and sensitive heart and a curious mind. I love making small moments special, and delighting in the little things—sunshine on the pavement, fresh-cut tulips, a sandwich wrapped in wax paper and tied with baker’s twine. If I could paint the interiors of my mind, it would be saturated with a happy and sunny yellow, with touches of seafoam green and big, joyful splashes of pink.

I love loving others and making small efforts to bring them joy. I love loving the little things in life. I love loving God because He is so gentle with me, and the Holy Spirit because it/He (let’s get theological, friends!) is what fills me with peace and joy and a zest for life when I make the conscious effort to both pray and praise. I love my parents and friends, professors and major. I love my beachy home and Texas sweet tea.

There are little pieces of my heart all over the world; I love a lot of people and places and things...but I don’t love romantic love.

I’ve always been comfortable being independent. I’ve dated, but never seriously, and singleness has always brought a genuine sense of relief. Once I settled into college life and had close friends and sorority sisters who were, gulp, engaged, my glorification of independence started to chip and crumble. Did I need someone else? I was, for the first time in a long time, questioning whether or not I was behind in the rat race of romance. My soft heart, once rooted in self-reliance, and saturated with patience, confidence, and trust in God’s plan, began to feel a little bit bruised and a lot a bit sad.

Once in college, wearing pink on Valentine’s Day didn’t bring me the same joy. While neighbors in the dorms received elaborate rose bouquets from loving boyfriends near and far, I had a brown paper box from my mom filled with treats and bits of home, and my family’s comforting words to cling to. I remember wondering how in the world everyone got so...grown up. Did I miss some crucial step in the aging process that would fashion me into an adult, stripping me of my pink-wearing, valentine-making, mom-loving nature?

The feeling lingered, drifting into the following year and colonizing the present moment. I already made valentines, and I still plan on wearing pink, but I have been dreading Friday’s festivities—or lack of festivities—for the past two weeks. My heart has been a little glum and (always) anxious. While I have always taken comfort in giving my other anxieties to God, turning to Him about romantic love felt unimportant and just embarrassing. Where would I begin?

Thank God for God. He saw me wrestling with my thoughts. “My daughter,” he said fondly, holding my hand. “I will love you more than any man—any boy­—ever can. Run to my arms. If you let me, I can be all you need.” We talked for a while. It wasn’t pretty at first—there were frustrated prayers and anxious tears. When I no longer had words for the overflowing, overwhelming feelings that were bubbling up, I took pen to paper.

The ink became thread, stitching together letters to explain the feelings I couldn’t verbalize. The words became a sea, swirling around my knees. The pen became my avenue to God. The page became His invitation to the wild soiree in my heart.

 

And then He hugged me. My entire body felt like it had been soaked in a warm lavender bath, or enveloped by a blanket from the dryer, warmth still lingering.  I no longer had to—have to—limp along alone. Since Sunday school, I’ve known he is “with” me, as He is omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient. What I didn’t grasp was that he is actually with me, a coalescence of the compassionate King and his humble servant. He is with me because his spirit fills me. It’s this radical, boundless love that reminds me I don’t need to be independent or romantically linked. I don’t have to be anything but His daughter. I am the daughter of a King who is not moved by the world. For my God is with me and goes before me. I do not fear because I am His.

 

“Dance with God and He'll let the perfect man cut in.”

Happy Valentine's Day (week?), friend.

...And now I feel like wearing pink.

 

Finding Home (1,600 Big Miles Away)

It starts with coffee. A plain, albeit whimsical coffeehouse becomes the sanctuary for academics and writing—a quiet place of murmurs and coffee drips and tea cups clinking on saucers. On busier days, when the only seat left is in the crowded corner barely boasting the room for my own body, it begins with food instead.

Vegan diners, farmers' markets, organic grocery stores, smoothie shops—my soul is replenished and my stomach nourished. There are a few words exchanged, the warmth of a greeting, the sweetness of a small courtesy (an extra napkin, a door opened). Often there are dreadlocks, contained with an elastic, juxtaposing the orderly and the chaotic. Sometimes the jeans are rolled at the cuff, only once or twice, dragging the eye down to leather brogues. The shirt is usually plaid, sleeves pushed back at the elbows. The smile is always sincere. I give him a few wrinkled dollars for fleshy nectarines. He slips in an extra.

In my hometown, my niche is His creation. It’s the ocean, cliffs, sunsets studded with hot air balloons and hang gliders. It’s the “we aren’t built for this” kind of laughter as friends link arms and take on the rarity of rain in flip flops and tank tops.

My home is the sand, forever living in the trunk of my hybrid and sneaking through the cracks in the seats. It’s the aviators and the messy ponytails, the swimsuits, naked toes, and sunkissed, freckled noses. Home is my old parking spot at the high school, once painted coral and mint, with waves and dots splashing onto my best friend’s inversely painted slice of pavement. Home is the tiny fingernail of an outdoor café, nestled in the neighborhood by the beach, with Belgian waffles and little tin pitchers of steamed milk.

In Texas, it’s the nightly sunsets streaked with orange and pink and lavender, the gold leaves in the fall, and a springtime array of tulips and daffodils, wild by nature but contained by overzealous tender love and care. I brew coffee in my little single apartment and curl up in the oversized armchair to read. Home is my collection of thick, brightly colored paints and humble brushes. It’s my snoring neighbor and the distant sound of laughter and high heels, trailing down the halls and melting into the staircase.

Home is that one really long red light, when I silently curse for just missing the green (oh, knickers!). It’s the greasy burger joint with the sweet buns and my old freshman year dorm, tossing Polaroids of memories down to me out of wide-open windows. That was where we made forts and microwavable cookies and nearly fell out of our lofted beds.

But mostly, home—my own little place in a big, big world—is when I feel connected and peaceful, with a handful of friends over for dinner, laughing over baguettes and pasta with a thick garlic butter sauce, shoes kicked off by the door, phones in a basket, and heart full.

“She left pieces of her life behind her everywhere she went. It's easier to feel the sunlight without them, she said.” | Brian Andreas

The Reflection Phase: 25 Things I Learned from 2013

A year is a small bundle of moments, sewn into the pages of a calendar, and smudged in the top right corner of our history homework. There isn’t enough time or power in one little year for life to radically shift...right?

Every December 31st, teetering on the brink of a brand-new year, I think life can’t really change that much in 365 days. Entering into 2013, I felt that I had sipped every last drop of novelty that life had to offer; I was a second-semester freshman, and would later be a friend of summer, followed by a first-semester sophomore. By January 1st of my freshman year, the sheer newness of college was whittling away into a stale, albeit intellectually nourishing experience. My mind was still being stretched and pulled in the classroom (Italian classes, statistics, oh my!), but after a whirlwind of an autumn, I felt like Life could not possibly have new tricks up her sleeve.

Of course, I was dead wrong. Three small days of 2014 have gone by, gifting me a chance to quietly reflect on the path behind me, as I turn my sights to the yet-to-be. Below is a collection of lessons learned from 2013, some tender, some tough, some comic.

1. Being an introvert can be a blessing.

I really cannot do the topic justice with words when Kristen Hedges has already said it best: “I embrace my introversion with pride. Why? Because it’s awesome. All the best thinkers are introverts. In order to develop brilliant ideas and understand your place in the universe, you must turn inward. Meditate. You go on a solo journey into the very center of your heart, and cultivate a garden there. Then, you can spread your ideas and your creations to the world...Introverts are also incredible listeners. We are sensitive lovers. We’re caring, and nurturing, and we make lifelong friends. And the best part? We throw the world’s best double date game nights. Just don’t invite the whole block. So no, I don’t want to go to that party. Yes, I would rather stay home and scribble in a notebook. Yes, we are still friends. No, I’m not mad at you. You know what I would love to do? Get coffee. Or read next to each other. That sounds good.”

 2. Bravely reject the norm.

Just because seemingly everyone is dressing up and going to the bars does not mean you (or I) have to. Don't feel sheepish just because you find joy in (very) different activities than everyone around you. Follow your passions and seek meaningful fellowship.

3. I really did not need my belly button pierced.

Growing up in San Diego meant that anyone who’s anyone had a belly ring. Long story short, I got one and let it close up 3 months later.  I live in Texas most of the time, with a big coat covering my tummy, and no respectable beach (sorry to the Galveston lovers). The ring got pulled and tangled, fell out twice, and was more infected then I care to divulge. Impractical. 

4. My passions aren’t random—they’re my calling.

I struggled with this a lot when I was deciding on a major. I love the written language and I could geek out about religious history for eternity (pun). Just because what I like seemed different than the other girls didn’t mean I was random or weird (though I am for other reasons).

5. Be Rachel.

Similarly to above, 2013 has really helped me come to terms with the fact that what’s fun for other people might not (and often won’t be) fun for me too (and vice versa--I'm aware that not everyone likes puzzles, pie, and pajamas). 

6. When going to bed in embarrassing pajamas (particularly lime green footies with monkeys and peppermints), set sweats and a jacket by the bed in case of fire alarms.

My apartment complex has been testing my patience, and has had four lovely, earsplitting alarms this past semester. Each time I am in horrible, socially unacceptable pajamas (that I love to the ends of the Earth). Ratty t-shirt that barely covers? Check. Lime green nightgown? Oh yes. Footies of all patterns and colors? But, alas. Just learn from my mistakes and have fire alarm clothes handy. Please.

7. People aren’t thinking of you as much as you think they are.

They don’t notice you’re walking to class alone, and don’t care that much about the picture you just posted. Inhale some oxygen and keep movin’, friend.

8. Choose magazines like friends.

Celebrity gossip is a sugary trap: the buzz and then the crash. Just as the modeling agency was toxic for me, dwelling on successful models and celebrities can be just as dangerous. This year I’ve become a huge fan of Kinfolk and Darling magazines, filling my thinking cap with thoughts with worth and innovative ideas.

9. Keep your standards high.

When it comes to boys, don’t settle. End of discussion.

10. Thou shalt not go anywhere without a Camelbak water bottle.

 

11. Thou shalt also not skip morning coffee.

During the last week of school, my slice of Texas was hit with the “ice-pocalypse.” Slipping on solid ice all the way to Kroger was not on the to-do list, and it was finals week, so I settled for vending machine energy drinks for two weeks. Boom, crash, burn, cry, panic attack. Lesson learned.

12. Don’t be afraid to be smart.

I’ve written about my anxious nature plenty of times. This anxiety absolutely transfers over to the classroom. If my hand is raised, my heart is probably pounding. I don’t really mind speaking in front of the class, but I’m dreadfully afraid of being labeled “the smart girl.” You’d think it’d be flattering when people are over-the-top eager to be your partner on a group project—high school proved the contrary.

13. Twenty is too old for your high school denim shorts.

Goodbye white denim and green Hollister low-riders. You will be missed. (You make me look like I’m longing for 14, and that is an age I truly do not wish to repeat.)

14. Running is not the only kind of exercise.

Growing up a competitive swimmer and being a cheerleader in middle school and high school taught me that while the rest of the world trudges along in tennis shoes, I can have a lot more fun while I sweat. (Though, I did do summer cross-country freshman year of high school. Luckily, for the sake of my point, it didn’t turn out so well.)

As Kinfolk says, “Do some aqua aerobics or just jump in a lake...Skateboard across town. Try to resist grabbing the back of a truck...Chase small children around a muddy field: They cannot get enough.”

15. What you enjoyed doing as a 10-year-old is probably what you enjoy doing now.

I read the line in Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project, and was captivated. Ten-year-old Rachel, with chubby cheeks and short, blonde hair, loved to play dress-up, color, play in the backyard, read, and make food for others. Almost-20-year-old Rachel enjoys the very same things.

16. Leggings can be pants if you want them to be pants.

Please don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

17. Chose your company wisely.

The quote is infamous—you become like the five people you spend the most time with. Think about those people. Would you be proud to be a mirror image of them? A melting pot of their qualities? Chose friends you respect, value, and look up to.

18. Make small moments special.

The little things are the best things.

19. Walking is the best way to think.

20. Wake up early.

Seize the day. Though having a lie-in on the weekends and reading amidst rumpled covers is a satisfying treat.

21. Eat well, feel well.

22. Gossip breeds more gossip.

And suddenly, you’re the subject of the gossip. And you feel quite glum. Avoid it, walk away from it, and literally run away from it, if need be.

23. Unplug your phone.

Technology sings a lovely siren song, but there is such thing as too much.Way too much. Check here and here.

24. Read.

25. Christmas music year-round is not breaking the “rules.”

It’s celebrating Christ’s birth daily, rather than “saving it” for a certain season. And while we’re at it, Christmas movies are good for the soul and make my heart smile. Don’t you dare tell me I can’t watch Eloise at Christmastime tonight (because I’m going to).

 

Lots of love and warm wishes.

Here's to a brilliant 2014.